Essential Oils For the Woodsperson

The secret is out: if you want to improve your psychological well-being, support creative thinking, and protect your physical health, you need to get outside for at least 120 minutes a week.

Over 1000 studies have confirmed that time in nature isn’t just good for health, it’s a requirement. No matter what aspect of health and well-being is being looked at, whether it’s stress levels, cardiovascular fitness, self-esteem, or immune system strength, chances are there’s a study to show nature’s positive benefits.

Being in nature not only helps people feel good, it actually helps them combat diseases and illnesses. In Japan, there is a practice known as “forest bathing,” which despite its name does not involve water, but is instead a long walk in the woods. Japanese researchers have studied the health benefits of forest baths, and found that the presence of natural killer (NK) cells and anti-cancer proteins were consistently elevated in subjects after forest-bathing trips.   

Another study by the same researchers looked at whether the phenomenon would occur when subjects were exposed to cedar essential oils in hotel rooms, and found that exposure “significantly” increased levels of NK cells. This study suggests that it’s not enough to look at greenery, but that immersion in nature, including breathing in those forest aromas, is a significant component of improving key health indicators.

So what is the minimum requirement of time spent outside to reap this panthea of health benefits? The answer is a hard minimum of two hours, every week. Gender, age, and socioeconomic status do not make a difference. Humans are hard-wired to prosper outside, and that’s the bottom line.

Of course, there’s one catch to all of this, and it’s that all of these stress-lowering benefits are contingent on one factor: feeling safe. And while safety is largely dependent on smart outdoor practices, having the right essential oils can certainly help keep any outdoors person more comfortable.

If it’s high-time to take a forest bath, here are the best 7 essential oils to always keep on hand:  

Eucalyptus

Ah, eucalyptus. An essential oil standby, and for good reason. This plant extract is found lurking in almost everybody’s medicine cabinet. From toothpaste to bug repellant to cough and cold medicines, is there anything eucalyptus can’t do? 

First and foremost, this essential oil is great for keeping mosquitos at bay, which is why it’s a common ingredient in botanical-based bug repellants. Eucalyptus molecules can be volatile, so it’s important to dilute this oil first, even better if it’s mixed with other bug-busting essential oils, and reapply every half hour. The extra effort is worth the reward, especially when considering the strong stench of DEET.

If being outside tends to trigger allergic reactions, eucalyptus oil can also be used to relieve those symptoms. Known for its ability to loosen mucus, inhaling eucalyptus oil is known to help clear coughs and promote better breathing. Simply dilute and put a dab on the chest to say goodbye to sinus phlegm. 

And that’s not all. At the end of a hike when muscles are barking, eucalyptus might just be the thing a sore back needs to carry on. Many over-the-counter creams used to treat arthritis contain eucalyptus essential oil, thanks to its ability to reduce pain and inflammation. For on-the-go cooling relief, try rubbing diluted eucalyptus oil onto tired legs and feet. 

Lavender

Another essential oil power player, lavender can seemingly do it all. Got a bug bite? Lavender oil. Need a chill pill? Lavender oil. Have a Sunburn? Lavender oil. 

One of the few essential oils that can be applied directly to the skin, there is no better option for quick treatment of bug bites, burns, and other skin wounds. It’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties are so legendary that they are actually responsible for the entire field of aromatherapy. A French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé dabbed some lavender essential oil on a skin burn in the early 1930s, and he was so impressed with how the wound healed that he went on to write the book that founded the field of aromatherapy.

Speaking of burns, take advantage of lavender’s analgesic properties the next time somebody gets a sunburn outside. It will help reduce inflammation associated with the burn, quell pain, and promote healing. And when suffering from a burn, who doesn’t need a little help relaxing? Lavender is great for that, too. 

Tea Tree

Tea tree essential oil is a must-have for any woodsperson’s backpacking kit. Long-heralded by the Australian aborigines, this plant extract was originally consumed as a tea to help fight colds and coughs. Scientists have now confirmed that the compounds in tea tree oil can kill certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi, making it the ideal oil to sanitize hands and other parts of the body while outdoors. 

And yes, while washing hands with soap and water is the best way to sanitize them, there’s a good chance that sinks are in short supply while on a hike. In a pinch, the antibacterial and antiseptic properties of tea tree essential oil can help kill germs known to cause the common cold and flu. Just make sure this is in tandem with reasonable sanitary precautions, and get those hands washed once everybody’s returned to the urban jungle.

Peppermint

Peppermint essential oil’s claim to fame is its high menthol-content, which is the compound that is responsible for the cooling sensation associated with the mint family. Pain is often described in words like “hot,” “searing,”  and “burning,” and it’s for this reason that cooling peppermint can provide much needed relief. 

For sore, aching, or burning muscles, use diluted peppermint oil and rub it directly into the skin. The menthol will cool the skin, and thanks to it’s antispasmodic properties, it can help prevent further cramping. The same is true of bug bites, especially if they are particularly painful. The peppermint will not only provide immediate relief, it’s insect-repelling properties will help stave off those pesky bugs and prevent future bites.

If ibuprofen is in short supply, peppermint essential oil is a great option to keep on hand for somebody prone to developing migraines or tension headaches. When applied to the forehead and temples, menthol has been shown to provide pain relief and reduce light sensitivity associated with migraines.  

Chamomile

Like lavender, chamomile has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Closely related to the daisy, this flower can calm stomachs, induce relaxation, and promote wound healing. 

It isn’t just soothing for a tired mind (hello, bedtime tea), it’s extremely soothing for the skin, too. That’s why it’s not uncommon to find this plant lurking in drug store skin creams. For the outdoor adventurer, chamomile is ideal for treating itchy skin and calming allergic reactions. 

In 2011, a study comparing a chamomile solution to a hydrocortisone cream (often used to treat itchiness, eczema, and other skin conditions) found that the chamomile solution was actually more effective at treating lesions and reducing associated pain and itchiness. Chamomile is also a known antihistamine, making it an ideal essential oil to prevent and reduce allergic reactions. For on-the-go relief, mix with a carrier oil and apply to your neck, chest, or back.

Geranium 

Geranium is another plant with a long history of human cultivation, and its sweet flowery scent makes it a popular choice for perfumes and cosmetics. But geranium essential oil does more than just smell good, it’s a powerful line of defense against ticks. 

Bug bites are bad enough, but tick bites top the chart when it comes to the potential health havoc they can wreak. Lyme disease, TBRF, and tularemia are just a few of the diseases transmitted by ticks. The best protection is prevention, and luckily geranium essential oil can provide another line of defense. One 2013 study showed that geranium essential oils were effective in repelling up to 90% of ticks. 

Ticks typically bite people in warm, small, or hairy areas. For extended walks outside, place a few drops of geranium oils on socks or shoes. For camping or overnight trips, consider applying diluted geranium oil on other parts of the body, like behind the ears, near the armpits, and around the scalp. 

Orange

An often-overlooked element of time outside for the new woodsperson is hydration. Exercise, humidity, and sun exposure can all contribute to dehydration, and it’s important to account for how much water each person and pet will need when planning outdoor trips. So, what can be done to make hydrating more pleasurable?

For fans of citrus-water, orange essential oil provides an easy solution. Simply add a drop to a water bottle, shake vigorously, and enjoy a now-flavored drink. Water will not only taste better, but it will impart some of the many benefits of orange essential oil, like stress reduction and antioxidant activity. For the adults who are feeling festive, the same technique can be applied to champagne for a drink that tastes like mimosas, but without the OJ. Just don’t forget the part about staying hydrated! Keep in mind that essential oils are highly concentrated, so, only a drop or two is necessary to flavor a beverage.

Nature is for Everybody

Whether you’ve ever identified as an outdoors person or not, the science is in and the news is good: everybody is an outdoors body!  Two hours a week is only one Saturday morning – a small step for your busy schedule, but a giant leap for your health and well-being. With these seven essential oils in tow, you’ll be ready to take your next forest bath in comfort, feeling prepared, and let’s be real – the aromatic envy of everybody else on the trail. 

Happy exploring!

Categories: Essential Oils

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